241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

page from Folk Archive
Snowdrop the Mechanical Elephant by the Clare Family, Egremont, Cumbria, 2004.
page from Folk Archive
page from Folk Archive

The book, Folk Archive, by artists Jeremy Deller (1966) and Alan Kane (1961) is a true feast for the eyes and radiates the pleasure of making. The publication documenting the exhibition on folk art showcases the artists’ love for the phenomenon. Over a period of seven years they collected all they could on “British creativity”. On the BBC’s website, you’ll find a number of video clips in which Jeremy Deller, an attractive young man with long hair, the winner of the 2005 Turner Prize, walks through the exhibition, enthusiastically explaining: “There are two hundred and fifty artworks in this show, and they’re all very different in nature.” He shows a drawing by a prisoner, envelopes for sick notes scrawled daily by a guard who also happens to be an amateur tattoo artist, but also eggs hand painted with eerily realistic clown portraits.

Exhibition view, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2008.

With great pleasure and fervour, Deller and Kane collected a range of anything they could find on the broad topic of “contemporary popular culture.” They took photos and videos , received documentation from others, as well as found historical footage of celebrations that have been part of tradition for centuries, such as the World Championship Silly Faces or the Egremont Crab Fair, a week long festival in Cumbria that occurred in 1387 and included a pipe smoking contest, a vegetable show, and an apple-giving parade. Among the exhibition were objects they collected, like embroidered underwear used at certain festivals for wrestling matches. The last retrospective on British folk art had taken place in Whitechapel, meaning a more modern perspective was very welcome.

Tom Harrington, Cumberland and Westmoreland Wrestling Champion, Egremont, Cumbria, 1999.

For a year, the Folk Archive exhibition travelled from museum to museum. Luckily, we still have the wonderful catalogue comprising of a colourful collection of photographs, texts, and screenshots. Each time you page through the book, you’ll come across something you hadn’t noticed before: a giant bear made of straw walking through the high street, an old Cambridgeshire custom in which the villagers would be expected to dance for this “bear” on the town square and feed him honey. Or an old forgotten tradition in Blackpool that prompts young girls to dress as old women for a celebration.

The book has been divided into different categories such as performance (like the silly faces competition) but also into politics, life and death, animals. Included are Ed Hall’s beautifully painted signage and banners used by members of the trade unions during demonstrations. The forward begins on the cover, in which Deller and Kane start explaining their methodology: “a personal selection of images and stories that excited or amused us.” They refrain from using the term “outsider art”, a term used profusely in their art world. These artists shift their choice, their archive, from one context to the next, from the street to the museum.

Deller and Kane explain that they were searching for humour, modernity, a new perspective, refreshing directness, and much more: “We find ourselves in an area between art and anthropology. As artists, we’re going on an optimistic journey of personal discovery (often close to home.) As anthropologists, we hope to describe and experience something worth seeing. For those interested in anthropological approach, we must apologise for the term ‘archive’ which is so often misused. Also, we’ll have to apologise for the artistic nonchalance in relation to details. (Artists have been using the term archive left and right recently, it’s a fashionable term that’s sometimes used to describe meagre collections. Archive apparently sounds interesting. To all those involved in folk or regional cultural scenes, we’d likewise like to apologise for that cheap term, ‘folk’ as well as plundering whole worlds.”

Folk Archive is a journey full of surprises through an unfamiliar England.

Folk Archive, Contemporary Popular Art from the UK by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane (2005).

Pizza Rut, Blackpool, Lancashire.
Tar Barrel Rolling, Ottery St Mary, Devon, 2004 © Jessica Mallock.
Speaker Stack, Notting Hill Carnival, London, 2003.
Line of beasts
Snowdrop the Mechanical Elephant by the Clare Family, Egremont, Cumbria, 2004.

I first encountered Aurie Ramirez’s work at a Madrid art fair at the stand belonging to the Jack Hanley gallery from San Francisco. As it turned out, she makes drawings within the context of Studio Creative Growth, the world’s largest and oldest studio for handicapped adult artists. Ramirez is autistic. The following questions have been interpreted by Jennifer O’Neal, the manager of her studio.

What does folk art mean to you? What relationship does your work have to folk art?

Aurie’s work is related to folk art in the sense that she never followed formal training, she’s an autodicact. She’s driven by the desire to create.

Do you think that in this world without borders, folk art can have an influence that rises above its own cultural territories and the context in which it was made?

Folk art definitely exerts an influence. After all, outsider art has long been collected by art institutes and private collectors, and has inspired generations of artists. Possibly, outsider art has had such a great influence thanks to its unmistakeable “enlightening” qualities. A strong capability to communicate with the viewer, the driving force behind its creation and its subject matters that are extremely personal and honest contribute to the work’s originality, in turn allowing it to enlighten the viewer.

Could you describe the folk art you grew up with?

There are many elements in her work that can be traced back to her youth and the parental home: family dinners, the band Kiss, the TV show The Addams Family, and punk inspired fashion.

Emma Kunz was a popular healer and visionary. People came to her for her healing powers or to ask her questions about their futures. To help them, Kunz would make drawings. During lengthy sessions, some lasting up to twenty-four hours, Kunz would use her artworks as a map of the future. These maps acted like a navigational system to explore existential questions, as well as a system to diagnose her patients.

Emma Kunz

Kunz was never formally trained as an artist and only began drawing when she was late into her forties; intricately drawn large mandalas, complex colours, and variations in lines. While drawing, she would fall into a trance where she would not eat or drink, and fixated herself completely on her patient or the question she was searching to answer. Using a pendulum, she would mark co-ordinates to signal beginning and end points on graph paper. She would then trace billions of lines between these points.

Due to her immense dedication to her drawings, she was able to access dimensions that transcend the consciousness of the every day. The minute precision of these drawings hearkens to meticulous mathematical compositions that, besides their beauty, contain the universe’s secret formulas. A segment of reality outside of the reach of our every day consciousness was revealed to Kunz through these abstract patterns. Kunz wasn’t accepted by the mainstream art world during her lifetime.

Art as a definition was far too restrictive for her. Her geometric play was more than just art. She understood the power of the image and it’s ability to act as a tool to initiate the transformation process within human consciousness, and how this could exert its influence onto the world. Despite this awareness, her drawings lay strewn throughout her home and were never meant to be hung on a wall. ‘My work is meant for the 21st century’, she said. And she was right; her work in all its controversy has only now been accepted by the art world.

Kunz stopped drawing in the sixties. She had no need to anymore. Her connection to the cosmos had grown to such an extent that she could directly receive answers to her questions. The borders between earthly contradictions were lifted.